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Ergonomics Considerations For Reducing Cumulative Trauma Exposure In Underground Mining
  • Published Date:
    0/1/1900
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    1. INTRODUCTION Underground mining in the USA has undergone significant change in the past 20 years. Two key elements have been increased mechanization and a more educated work force in spite of these changes, many jobs continue to be labor-intensive and repetitive in nature. They entail tasks that, performed over time, can take a toll on the soft tissues and joints. The problem may be compounded by an aging mining workforce. In 1996 the mean age of the coal mining work force was 45 years and the median total years of experience was 20 (NMA 1998). As a person ages, the body resilience to chronic wear and. tear is reduced, which may cause a worker to pay an increasingly higher health price for performing the same task. Mining companies, like many others, are becoming more aware of cumulative effects to the worker as reports of these types of injuries rise. . Conducting a job analysis is an important step when considering a job redesign or modification to reduce worker cumulative trauma exposure. A basic approach to job analysis is to examine the types of aches and pains reported, the tasks performed, and work site conditions. The US Bureau of Mines (USBM) conducted an evaluation of roof-bolting tasks performed at an underground coal mine concerned about early warning signs of cumulative trauma. This evaluation will comprise the primary focus of this chapter. The approach used for the roof-bolting race study may be applicable to other work environments. 2. FUNDAMENTALS OF CUMULATIVE TRAUMA EXPOSURE Musculoskeletal injury is a term used to describe a wide range of soft tissue disorders that affect the nerves, tendons and muscles. Common examples include lower back pain, tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. The majority of these injuries are not the result of sudden mishaps, but usually develop gradually from repeated wear and tear. Symptoms may not appear immediately, but can take weeks, months or even years. Symptoms may result from many types of activities, performed at work or at home, and it is often difficult to attribute there to a single event. In fact, it is more common to identify factors that may have contributed to the development of the condition. The terms repetitive strain injuries or cumulative trauma disorders (CTD) have been commonly used to refer to disorders that have occurred due to work-related activities. Three main risk factors contribute to CTD: force, repetition and awkward postures. Any one or combination of these may contribute to the development of CTD. Therefore, the design of equipment in conjunction with the required tasks should be evaluated when attempting to reduce these risk factors. Examining the layout of the work area to help identify tasks which may contribute to cumulative trauma is necessary. The following list (Putz-Anderson 1988), describes ergonomics concerns that, overall, should be minimized at the work area: • Crowding or cramping the worker: a work area layout may unnecessarily constrain movements of the worker. • Twisting or turning: placement of tools and materials may require the worker to twist the spine to fulfill the requirements of the job. • Repeated reaching motions: the layout of the work area may require the worker to lean to reach and grasp the necessary tools and controls. • Misalignment of body parts: the arrangement of the work area may require the worker to frequently have one shoulder higher than the other or have the neck or spine bent to one side. While many of these concerns are a function of equipment design and environmental conditions, making workers aware of these issues may help them to adapt their work habits to reduce risk of injury. Additionally, this information is useful when conducting an ergonomic evaluation of a work area and associated tasks. 3. UNDERGROUND MINING ENVIRONMENT The underground mining environment is a unique challenge. It is more difficult to develop controls for an underground mine site as compared with a

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